Thursday, November 29, 2012 · by Tamara Aparton
San Francisco, CA — A woman wrongly accused of domestic violence after struggling to get her drunken boyfriend onto a bus was cleared of all charges by a San Francisco jury Wednesday, San Francisco Public Defender Jeff Adachi announced.
Jury members deliberated one day before finding Sacramento resident Maletina Letele, 37, not guilty of one count of assault and one count of domestic violence. If convicted, she faced four months in jail, 52 weeks of domestic violence counseling and three years of probation, said her attorney, Deputy Public Defender Jennifer Noryko.
Latele was arrested Oct. 4 at the Transbay Terminal while in line to board a Sacramento-bound Greyhound bus with her 35-year-old boyfriend. But her trouble began an hour earlier, when the couple bought their tickets and headed to a nearby store for snacks and liquor.
While Latele sipped a modest vodka and cranberry cocktail, her boyfriend chugged a bottle of malt liquor and a pint and a half of vodka. By the time they returned to the bus station, the boyfriend’s face and neck were red and he had become belligerent, pushing Latele’s hand away as she tried to guide him across the street and accusing her of flirting with passersby.
At the station, a man began making small talk with Latele, causing her boyfriend to shout profanities. Latele’s boyfriend then asked her to return to the store to get more alcohol. Latele declined, telling him their bus would arrive in 10 minutes. The boyfriend then began to yell that he wanted to go to the store. Latele again refused, prompting her boyfriend to curse at her and lie down on the floor of the crowded station, where he lit a cigarette. The couple bickered until the bus arrived a few minutes later.
When Latele told her boyfriend to get up, he refused. Frustrated, she yelled at him, “You need to get up, the bus is here.” The boyfriend refused to budge. Latele extended her arms to help him up, but he turned away. She extended her arms a second time. Her boyfriend took them, but purposefully fell backward. After offering to help him up several more times, the boyfriend accepted Latele’s hands and made her pull him completely off the floor.
Meanwhile, a woman who witnessed Latele’s struggle to peel her boyfriend off the floor called 911 and reported a possible assault, telling the 911 operator that Latele may have kicked her boyfriend in the head.
Responding officers booked Latele into San Francisco County Jail, where she remained until her acquittal.
During the three day trial, the 911 caller took the stand, testifying she wasn’t sure she had seen any physical violence, just an alarming situation. The arresting officer also testified, admitting that after talking to Latele and her boyfriend, he was still unsure if there had been an assault. The officer also interviewed a second witness, he said, who reported that the couple had been in a verbal disagreement only.
“This case perfectly illustrates that things are not always as they appear,” Noryko said. “The 911 caller heard yelling and saw man lying on the ground, so she did the right thing by erring on the side of caution and contacting police. However, the jury was able to see the entire picture and determined no crime occurred.”
Prosecutors did not contact Latele’s boyfriend to testify.
Adachi said justice was served in the case.
“Ms. Latele was in jail for nearly two months before she could clear her name. Fortunately, the jury came to the right decision and Ms. Latele can finally move on with her life,” he said.
Noryko prepared for the trial with the help of post-bar intern Buffy Hutchison.